Commentary Magazine


Topic: don’t ask don’t tell

Gay Rights Groups Complicate Left’s Narrative of Hagel As Victim

Although opposition to the possible nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense has formed along a diverse group of issues, the left has chosen to focus on pro-Israel groups. Hagel opposes all serious efforts to stop Iran. He prefers engagement with terrorist groups. And he believes members of Congress cower in fear of an all-powerful “Jewish lobby.” It is this last part that Hagel’s defenders have focused on, in large part because many of them also believe in an all-powerful “Jewish lobby” that controls the public discourse on Israel by setting and enforcing ground rules.

That such paranoid ignorance prevails in leftist media should not surprise. Yet it is often the case that those who accuse the right of obsession with Israel are projecting; as Pejman Yousefzadeh noted recently, “Israeli Lobby” conspiracy theorist Stephen Walt suggested that sticking it to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s supporters in the U.S. would be reason enough to nominate Hagel. Yet the attempts to silence pro-Israel opposition to Hagel by portraying it as disloyal and immoral aren’t working, in large part because concerned citizens petitioning the government is a basic part of American democracy. And that democratic inclination is now being practiced by gay rights groups who are criticizing Hagel as well. Will the leftist conspiracy theorists accuse gay rights advocates of the same nefarious subversion of democracy and treason with which they label pro-Israel groups? One surely hopes not.

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Although opposition to the possible nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense has formed along a diverse group of issues, the left has chosen to focus on pro-Israel groups. Hagel opposes all serious efforts to stop Iran. He prefers engagement with terrorist groups. And he believes members of Congress cower in fear of an all-powerful “Jewish lobby.” It is this last part that Hagel’s defenders have focused on, in large part because many of them also believe in an all-powerful “Jewish lobby” that controls the public discourse on Israel by setting and enforcing ground rules.

That such paranoid ignorance prevails in leftist media should not surprise. Yet it is often the case that those who accuse the right of obsession with Israel are projecting; as Pejman Yousefzadeh noted recently, “Israeli Lobby” conspiracy theorist Stephen Walt suggested that sticking it to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s supporters in the U.S. would be reason enough to nominate Hagel. Yet the attempts to silence pro-Israel opposition to Hagel by portraying it as disloyal and immoral aren’t working, in large part because concerned citizens petitioning the government is a basic part of American democracy. And that democratic inclination is now being practiced by gay rights groups who are criticizing Hagel as well. Will the leftist conspiracy theorists accuse gay rights advocates of the same nefarious subversion of democracy and treason with which they label pro-Israel groups? One surely hopes not.

The New York Times reports on the latest Hagel controversy:

The new round of criticism is focused on comments Mr. Hagel made in an interview about James C. Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist nominated by President Bill Clinton to be ambassador to Luxembourg in 1997.

Mr. Hagel, a Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was approached by his fellow Nebraskan in the Senate, Bob Kerrey, on behalf of Mr. Hormel, whose nomination was being held up by conservative Republicans.

Mr. Hagel did not oppose the nomination when Mr. Hormel came before the panel. But he later spoke out against it, saying that an “openly, aggressively gay” man should not represent the United States.

“They are representing America,” Mr. Hagel said in an interview with The Omaha World-Herald. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

You can understand why gay rights groups aren’t happy about this quote and are cooling on Hagel. First of all, his comments are flatly insulting and tinged with a bigoted view of gay Americans. Hagel apparently believes, in his own words, that “it is an inhibiting factor to be gay” for someone who wants to represent American values and standards. His modification, that Hormel was “aggressively gay,” suggests he thinks gay men and women should somehow be less so in the company of others, lest they reveal what Hagel clearly believes to be a personal defect.

Additionally, if Hagel is nominated and confirmed to run the Pentagon, he’ll have to oversee the implementation of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred gay soldiers from serving openly in the military. Hagel has been on record in the past opposing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And gay rights advocates consider this a crucial moment for gay integration in the military, when they will be allowed to serve openly, and are concerned about the bigotry that might be expressed toward such soldiers–bigotry Hagel has publicly espoused.

Will the left now complain about some “gay lobby” silencing the administration and directing policy from the shadows? Probably not. Additionally, there’s another wrinkle for those who pretend to be concerned about corrupting influences on the president: members of the gay community were major contributors to and fundraisers for the Obama campaign. As the Washington Post reports, the Obama White House feels the need to mollify Hagel’s gay critics:

The rising concerns bubbled to the surface even after phone calls to gay rights activists in recent days from senior White House aides, including top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. The aides told the activists that any Pentagon nominee would “live up to the principles” on gay rights established by Obama, according to several people familiar with the conversations.

Gay people proved to be among Obama’s most generous campaign donors and enthusiastic backers in this year’s reelection campaign, particularly after he decided to express his support for same-sex marriage.

Is this democracy in action or kowtowing to powerful puppet masters? Walt and the others in his camp seem to think it’s the latter. But they’re wrong. This is democracy in action, and it’s the vehicle through which the American people, in greater numbers by the day, are telling the president that it’s Hagel and his poisonous views that shouldn’t be “representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards” at home and abroad.

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